At times Friday night, there seemed to be more cameramen than players on the sidelines at Canyon Del Oro's football stadium.
Understandable, being that Canyon Del Oro, the state's top-ranked team in 4A-I, was taking on the fourth-ranked Sabino Sabercats in a game that not only determined the Sonoran Region champion, but also held huge implications for this week's state playoff brackets, making it the biggest game in Arizona high school football.
The Dorados (10-0) didn't flinch under the media glare, surviving a fourth-quarter Sabino rally and beating the Sabercats 34-21 to remain undefeated and secure a #1-seed in the first round of Friday's state playoffs.
Sabino was by no means a pushover. The Sabercats (8-2) gave the Dorados what was arguably their toughest game of the season.
Sabino, set up by a blocked punt deep in Dorado territory, scored first on a four-yard touchdown run by multi-talented, multi-position star senior Keanu Nelson.
CDO stormed back, scoring the next 27 points, including two rushing scores from standout junior running back Ka'Deem Carey, a 22-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Mike Lewis to senior wideout Josh Robbins, and a 1-yard run from junior running back Eddie Smith.
Then, back-to-back 12-play drives from Sabino, both ending in short-yardage touchdown runs from Nelson, put the Sabercats within striking distance, 27-21 with 2:38 left in the game.
The CDO bleachers were nearly silent as Sabino lined up for the onside kick, but exploded seconds later. Senior Jared Tevis snared the ball mid-hop and raced nearly untouched for a 50-yard touchdown return.
"I was planning on it going farther, and me hitting someone," said Tevis with a laugh after the game.
"But it was right there, so I grabbed it and just tried to turn the burners on and get into that end zone."
Tevis' return gave the Dorados the points they needed to secure the win, and, according to head coach Dusty Peace, the senior's ability to make plays when they're most needed isn't something new.
"What can I say, he's a magnet for the ball," said Peace with a smile. "The ball is always finding him – am I surprised? Not really."
Tevis also led all CDO receivers with two grabs for 99 yards. That yardage, and Robbins' four catches for 71 yards, helped quarterback Lewis to his best game so far, as the senior finished with eight completions on 10 attempts for 180 yards.
The Dorados' rushing game was contained by Sabino more so than by any team this season, as Carey gained 87 yards on 16 carries with two scores.
According to Peace, the last time the Dorados went undefeated in the regular season was 33 years ago. While he stressed the history to his team in a post-game meeting, he also emphasized that the team "has bigger goals."
"We want to win a state championship," said Peace.
The road to achieving that goal begins at home this Friday at 7 p.m. against the 4A Desert Sky's Tempe McClintock Chargers.
Nov 6. results
Canyon Del Oro 34, Sabino 21
Ironwood Ridge 21, Mountain View 14
Nogales 32, Marana 7
Pusch Ridge 56, Morenci 7 (first round 2A state playoffs)
Tempe McClintock at CDO, 7 p.m. (first round 4A-I playoffs)
Ironwood Ridge at Scottsdale Desert Mountain, 7 p.m. (first round 5A-II playoffs)
Yuma Catholic at Pusch Ridge, 7 p.m. (second round of 2A state playoffs)